New York

Milton Resnick

Robert Miller Gallery

Milton Resnick has created something new—not his usual dense, epic, labored and belabored painterly Saragossa Sea surfaces, but mythical figures, afloat on a gentle tide of lyrically alive gestures. Sheer poetry, these figures are explicitly linked to three mythological and biblical themes surrounding the “mystery of life”: the judgment of Paris, the Sphinx, and Adam and Eve. They are intimate, quietly intense, sensitive paintings—much more delicate and restrained than Resnick’s earlier work—in which the figures share in the “psychosomatic” atmosphere of the paint, but function as autonomous centers of emotional interest.

Has Resnick regressed to the literary from the pure painterly? Or has he progressed to it, the pure approach having become routine and passé? Perhaps he has simply returned to his own roots: these works recall three volumes of Resnick’s poetry, each entitled a Journey of Voyages. In the poem dated July 13 and 14, 1961, he remarks that “a blind weight of suffering fuels my ships.” It is this weight of suffering to which Resnick returns, a suffering that was still unresolved in the heavy alloverness of his previous work, but which now, with the approach of death, must be faced and, if not overcome, codified—given a mythical framework. In these new paintings Resnick attempts to renew the way painting has always been used, adding “insights” to it afforded by pure painting: to use painting as a fluid, free space of imagination, a space of transition between existential fact and blind feeling, one that invites both collective and private dreaming.

Resnick’s sense of color is as elusive as his sense of figure and space. In You and Me, 1991, two white, genderless—altogether anonymous—figures stand on a brown plane that can hardly be called a “ground.” Above them hangs a black Mark Rothko–esque cloud, tinged with white. Intimate drama, even latent conflict, is suggested by the crossed arms of one figure. In a 1992 version of the same theme, the figures are clearly a man and a woman. The arch above them implies their unity, but the different levels on which they stand, and their different coloration, suggest that they are at odds both with themselves and the ground, however much, through textural continuity, they are part of the latter. These pictorially vague yet emotionally specific figures distill a century’s primitivism, without turning it into a cliché. Sphinx, 1992, and Stranger, 1991, make clear that they all speak of alienation—isolation and suffering as well as transcendence and sublimity—inviting us to join them in the work as “inner spectators.”

Resnick’s paintings are pictorial aphorisms—fragments of wisdom about life and art. Yet there is no peace in them, for all the softness of their handling. They have the underlying urgency of self-portraits, in which the artist is trying to come to terms with the disparate forces in himself. As such, they are magnificent reminders that art, in the hands of a master, remains a powerful means of self-recognition and individuation, however many artists have given up on the subjective and become overly dependent on social themes.

Donald Kuspit